by Mike Ratliff
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV)
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit!“ At first glance that may read or sound like Paul is saying, “instead of getting drunk, do these religious things,” which he lists in vv19-21. However, as we know, the proper way to interpret Sacred Scripture is by keeping what we are studying in context foremost. Here, the context tells us that the Apostle Paul is making a contrast that the Ephesians would have understood perfectly. Let’s go deeper.
Here is the Greek for v18, “καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι”. Here is my translation, “And not be drunk in wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled in spirit.” That’s pretty straightforward. The words translated in the ESV as “not get drunk” and by me as “not be drunk” are μὴ μεθύσκεσθε. The word μὴ or mē is used here to make this a negative command to not do something. The word translated here as “be drunk” or “get drunk” is μεθύσκεσθε which is the present tense, imperative mood, passive voice form of μεθύσκω or methuskō, which literally means to soak something to make it more elastic. This term came to mean becoming drunk to the point of being controlled by alcohol. The present,imperative passive form, in this context, would be talking about a way of life. Since Paul was telling the Ephesians not to do this then this is a command to not pattern ones life according to this.
Paul’s contrast here was referring to a form of drunkeness he called ἀσωτία or asōtia. While μεθύσκω does refer to becoming drunk to the point of being controlled by alcohol, ἀσωτία, which the ESV translated here as “debauchery” I translated as “dissipation.” What is this? The root of ἀσωτία is, of course, σωτία, which is derived from the the word σώζω or sōzō, which means “to save, deliver, make, whole, preserve safe from danger, loss, [and] destruction.” Since the alpha-negative is added to the beginning of σωτία to make ἀσωτία what we have here is the exact opposite. Therefore whatever is ἀσωτία has the properties of “no safety or deliverance, having no preservation from danger, loss, and destruction.” Do you see that Paul was referring to something much deeper than simply drinking too much wine?
The Ephesians would have understood because in the ancient Greek culture they worshiped the god Dionysus via frenzied orgies that were associated with intoxication. The use of phallic symbols, the tearing of wild animals to pieces, the eating of raw flesh, and savage dancing were also practiced. Why did they do this? They were supposed to induce some ecstatic communion with deities. In 1 Corinthians 10:19,20 Paul referred to this as the “cup of demons. In our time, in the visible church, there is a growing apostasy called Contemplative Prayer and Spiritual Formation that, instead of drunken orgies and such, utilize forms of transcendental meditation to achieve this higher level of spiritual ecstasy as my friend Ken Silva shows us in this fine post.
So, what is the contrast? What is Paul commanding Christians to do instead of this? He says, “πληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι” or “be filled in spirit.” Let us never forget that true communion with God is never induced outside of the means of Grace, which is by the Holy Spirit. All believers have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) and are baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13). The command, πληροῦσθε or plērousthe is the present imperative form of πληρόω or plēroō. It means to fill as a net with fish, but the present imperative form tells us that this is a command to pattern our lives to being filled with the spirit which leads to self control along with the other fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23).
I do not think we are too far off to point to those who want to “go beyond” what the Bible teaches to “go higher” as being guilty of ἀσωτία because they are placing themselves under the control of wickedness. They are essentially losing control, but those who are filled with the spirit are actually practicing self control. While the natural man may look at that and see what I just said as a paradox, we do not because to be filled with the spirit is to be in the perfect place, the place where we are where we know what the will of God and is and we are in it. On the other hand, those who are seeking what is “outside of the box” will find out very quickly that ἀσωτία will only lead them to an ever slipperier slope where there can be no escape.
Are You Being Filled With the Spirit or Something Else?
Soli Deo Gloria!